Oscars Mistake Threatens Reputation of PricewaterhouseCoopers

PricewaterhouseCoopers had given the presenters, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, the wrong envelope. “Moonlight,” not “La La Land,” was the actual winner.

The stunning reversal instantly became the central theme of the Oscars, repeated endlessly on television and swamping social media. And just as quickly, PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the so-called Big Four accounting firms, had a major brand crisis on its hands.

“Not since Janet Jackson and her wardrobe malfunction on the Super Bowl have we seen something quite as glaring as this snafu,” said Andrew D. Gilman, chief executive of the crisis communications firm CommCore Consulting Group. Although most of PricewaterhouseCoopers’s clients are aware that mistakes can happen, “the name of the firm has unfortunately been a little sullied,” he added.

The two identical sets of sealed envelopes are stationed on either side of the stage. The two PricewaterhouseCoopers partners who oversee the voting process, Martha L. Ruiz and Brian Cullinan, each have a briefcase with a complete set of the envelopes.

The envelope for best actress, the penultimate award of the night, came from one side of the stage.

After Emma Stone accepted that honor, Ms. Dunaway and Mr. Beatty came out to present best picture award. But they were handed an envelope from the other side of the stage, where the other best actress envelope was still unopened.

And Mr. Cullinan, who handed Mr. Beatty the envelope, clearly picked the wrong one.

After Mr. Cullinan and Ms. Ruiz realized that the wrong winner had been announced, they notified the stage manager, which set in motion a chaotic scene watched by the celebrity crowd in attendance and tens of millions of viewers on television.

Yet it still took more than two minutes between Mr. Dunaway announcing “La La Land” as best picture and an announcement from the “La La…

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